GRAND FORKS - Steve Argall admits he was nervous when his son, Erik, competed for the overall singles title during the AIM Grand National trapshooting tournament July 31-Aug. 1 in Sparta, Ill.
Erik Argall, 17, who'll be a senior at Thompson (N.D.) High School, won the overall singles championship with a perfect score of 250.
AIM, which stands for Academics, Integrity and Marksmanship, is the official youth program of the Amateur Trapshooting Association. More than 2,500 young shooters from across the country competed in the recent AIM event.
Argall hit 100 out of 100 targets-four, 25-shot rounds-during each day of the singles competition to earn a perfect score of 200, but two other shooters also shot perfect scores.
That set up a shootoff, the trapshooting equivalent of overtime.
"I was going nuts," Steve Argall admits with a laugh.
No worries; the younger Argall proceeded to dust another 50 targets to claim the title with a perfect score of 250.
"When they called for the shootoff, he was sitting in the clubhouse saying, 'Yeah, let's keep going,' " Steve Argall said. "I'm all worked up. He came out there, started cleaning his glasses, got some shells ready, everything else and he was cool as a cucumber.
"He will not move. A horsefly could come up and nail him, and he will not move."
That's part of the routine, the younger Argall said; no point in getting all worked up.
"You just have to go out and have some fun and try to break some targets," he said. "If you worry about it a lot, then it kind of stresses you out.
"I was kind of nervous, but I stayed calm through the whole thing. I was kind of in the zone."
Argall's demeanor and his focus on fundamentals have been keys to his success, said Jon Secord, president of the Grand Forks Gun Club.
"He's like a brick wall out there," Secord said. "Not much frazzles him. He's calm, cool, he's just totally focused. That's what you've got to be when you're out here shooting trap.
"He does all of the fundamentals to a perfect T."
The Grand Forks Gun Club in recent years has gained a reputation for the quality of young shooters it produces, and its success at the national level is proof.
Besides the overall singles title, Argall was part of a five-person Junior A squad from the Grand Forks Gun Club to place second in the team event at the AIM Grand National tourney. The squad, which consisted of Bryar Hanson, Central High School; Hunter Deziel, Red River; Ben Christian, Red River; Jacob Schempp, Larimore High School; and Argall, shot 973 out of a possible 1,000 targets to earn the second-place finish.
That success is a testament to the young shooters' abilities, said Secord, who started the AIM program in Grand Forks about five years ago and is North Dakota's state AIM coordinator.
"It's huge," Secord said of their success. "Phenomenal."
About 20 young shooters participate in the Grand Forks Gun Club's AIM program, Secord said. The focus is on kids who show an affinity for trapshooting and the work it takes to do well. The program is open to young shooters from 11 years old up to the age of 23.
Scores are registered nationally, and shooters can compete in Pre-sub, Sub-junior, Junior and Junior Gold categories based on their ages.
Basically, AIM is a step up from traditional youth trapshooting programs, Secord said.
"The first thing I look for is how interested they are and how interested the parents are," he said. "If they don't have the parents' backing, it's not going to work for them."
Just like high school trapshooting, AIM has been growing across North Dakota, Secord said.
"The idea was these kids are the ones that are going to be coming back" as adults, he said. "They're so involved at that competition level that they'll be coming back more than likely to shoot when they get done with college."
'Steady all along'
While members of the Junior A squad tend to peak at different times during the season, Argall "has been kind of steady all along," Secord said.
Breaking 200 straight targets just doesn't happen very often, Secord says, not to mention another 50 straight in a national tournament shootoff.
"There are a lot of guys in the state that have shot 200 straight, but it's been a long time since someone from this club has done it," he said. "It just doesn't happen-especially at a shoot level. Someone might come out here on a league night and shoot eight rounds and shoot 200 straight, but that's a whole different deal vs. going out there and shooting under pressure and all at once, so it's neat when they can pull that off."
Argall's approach to shooting doesn't come naturally to all young shooters, said Jim Shulind, a Grand Forks Gun Club coach for more than 40 years.
"He's kind of a quiet kid anyways," Shulind said. "Once he steps on that line, I think it's his focus and concentration. Nothing really seems to disturb him.
"For him to go 250 straight is really something. This is the toughest competition our kids get into on a national basis. For him to do that was just fantastic."
Argall has been shooting at the Grand Forks Gun Club for about six years, but the first gun he brought to the club is a far cry from the Beretta 686 Onyx Pro Trap Combo he recently purchased for future competitions.
Steve Argall said he felt embarrassed sending his son to the club with the old Marlin 12 gauge pump that had belonged to the boy's grandfather, but the club had loaner shotguns.
"I looked at what I had for guns and I'm like, 'I can't send this boy out there with that,' " Argall said. "I mean, they're old and decrepit.
"I didn't know they had loaners. They fitted him up with a loaner, and he shot that gun the first year and a half."
Argall's new Beretta, made specifically for trapshooting, comes with both single and double barrels and retails for north of $3,000. He used a Browning BT99, an entry level trapshooting gun, to win the recent AIM title.
"Before we left to go down (to the AIM tournament), I was going to sell that gun to one of the shooters," Steve Argall said. "But after he won, it's going to be hung on the wall."
A fitting reminder of a national title-and the tense moments that came with it.